Funding puts plan in motion for new Beltway ramp

A proposal to build a new ramp from the Baltimore Beltway to Southwestern Boulevard is one step closer to a reality after the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board voted to allocate an initial $1 million toward the project last month.

That means the relocation of Arbutus Veterinary Hospital at 4901 Leeds Avenue is also one step closer since that move is necessary for the ramp to be built.

On July 16, Frank Sopato, a friend of hospital owners Luke and Danielle Suh, said there is another option.

He said the alternative would cut across land already owned by the state, reducing the overall cost of the project while addressing the rush-hour congestion that currently exists in neighborhoods along the route.

The alternative proposal calls for the addition of traffic signals and the construction of a one-way access road that would carry traffic westbound from Southwestern Boulevard to Leeds Avenue, where traffic would then go onto the existing ramp to the inner loop, said Fran Ward, Maryland State Highway Administration community liaison for Baltimore and Harford counties.

Luke Suh said he is favor of traffic improvements to the area, but wants to make sure alternatives are considered before displacing the animal hospital, which has been at its current location for more than 50 years.

"It's kind of a fixture in the community," he said.

At a June 28 meeting, the transportation board decided to add the proposed ramp to a regional transportation plan for the area and to allocate the initial funding that would allow the SHA to enter the preliminary engineering phase of the project, Ward said in a July 7 email.

The ramp has been a source of frustration for some Leeds Avenue residents.

The SHA is considering the new ramp and closing an existing ramp on Leeds Avenue as part of an overall plan to improve the Beltway, Ward said last month.

Based on a 2007 concept study, the SHA determined that its "preferred alternative" would be to close the Leeds Avenue ramp by building a ramp and bridge that would connect Southwestern Boulevard to northbound Interstate 695 by crossing over Leeds Avenue, Ward said.

Before SHA could try to find the funding for the design and construction of the ramp, Ward said the project had to go before the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, an organization that does long-range planning for Baltimore City and five surrounding counties, to be included in the long-range transportation plan for the region.

Though the board last month voted in favor of the SHA's request to amend the 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program to include the ramp proposal with an existing SHA study to widen I-695 from the southwest interchange or I-95 to Security Boulevard, it was not without conditions.

The board requested that the SHA consider new proposals for the area that come up in the design phase, including the one that was presented by the veterinary hospital at the June 28 meeting.

Suh emphasized that no matter what the highway administration ultimately decides, it would be years before the veterinary clinic would have to move to another location.

Ward said last month that the process of designing the project alone could take several years, as the SHA would need to do engineering, conduct environmental studies and look at right-of-way or property issues in the area.

It would be several years before the project could enter the construction phase, and then its ability to move forward would be dependent on funding, she said.

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